'Bullies', A Story Of Friendship, Booze And Brawls In An Oakland Biker Bar
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. You've probably had the experience of reconnecting with a childhood friend and being surprised at the direction your friend's life has taken and perhaps discovering that you each have different memories of that childhood friendship. Our guest, writer Alex Abramovich, was in his 30s when he looked up a guy who'd bullied him in grade school, and he found his old tormentor, Trevor, was still using his fists. He headed a motorcycle club in Oakland, called the East Bay Rats, which had a reputation for boozing and brawling. The Rats regularly held neighborhood fistfights at a boxing ring behind their clubhouse, events they promoted with sweatshirts that read, East Bay Fight Night, Support Consensual Bloodshed. Abramovich wrote a magazine piece about the East Bay Rats then moved to Oakland for four years, where he spent so much time with the club that members like to say that he'd embedded with them. His new memoir is about the biker subculture, the struggling city of Oakland and his reflections on the violence in the East Bay Rats' lives and his own. It's called "Bullies: A Friendship." He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: Well, Alex Abramovich, welcome to FRESH AIR. Tell us about your memories of Trevor Latham as a child.
ALEX ABRAMOVICH: I remember Trevor as a large, menacing, angry boy, which is funny because when I went back and met him years later and saw photos of him, it turned out that he was a little boy - we were both pretty little kids - and he only had his growth spurt years after I'd initially met him. But I remembered him as just this malevolent force in my life.
DAVIES: When you were how old?
ABRAMOVICH: I would've been 7 years old, and this was in the fourth grade and my dad and I had just moved to a new town. I'd only moved in with my dad the previous year. My mom had died that year so I'd moved in with my father. And then my dad lost his job almost immediately so we moved from Massachusetts in with my grandma in Brooklyn, and then towards the end of that year, we moved to Long Island, which is where I met Trevor. And I was only in that school for two years, but in my memory he loomed as this sort of - the archetypal bully. He was the bully I remembered out of all the bullies I'd known.
DAVIES: So you were classmates. Would he, like, wait for you after school or - what kinds of - if you remember, what kinds of encounters were they?
ABRAMOVICH: Well, our memories are different. My memories diverge from Trevor's. My memory is of Trevor, you know, being the sort of kid that would meet you at the schoolhouse door and threaten to meet you back there at the end of the school day and threaten to beat me up, threaten to kill me. And the way I remember it, he did meet me at the schoolhouse door at the end of the day and he did beat me up, and I remember rolling around on the ground with him tussling, kicking, biting - a lot of fear.
DAVIES: And, if you remember, why was he bullying you? Do you recall having a sense of what motivated him?
ABRAMOVICH: At the time, I had no idea. At the time, I was just this confused, scared kid and here was this force of nature that I suddenly encountered and couldn't quite get around. So I was beyond thinking of motivations at that point. I was just - you know, I was just a mess.
DAVIES: So a lot of time goes by and you reconnect. How did that happen?
ABRAMOVICH: You know how people you met before the Internet existed, you sort of never think to Google them?
ABRAMOVICH: It was that sort of thing with Trevor. I remembered him and I remembered his name, but I'd never thought to Google him until one day I did. And a very short thing came up on the screen that said, I moved to California, became a bouncer and started a motorcycle club. So I knew at that point that we were - we would meet again. That was too good to pass up.
DAVIES: So you connect and you go out to Oakland. And when you saw him for the first time as an adult, what did he look like?
ABRAMOVICH: He looked like a whale walking upright. He's a massive guy, shaved head, goatee, Roman nose. Just big, big. All of those guys are big, all of the guys in his club. And he was surrounded by the guys in his club the first time I saw him, but even then he stood out. And he looked nothing at all like the boy I'd known, but somehow I knew him immediately. I recognized him, I knew exactly which one he was. And the first time I saw him, he had a - it was in a bar, and he was a bouncer at the bar and he had a guy backed up against the wall and was holding him by the scruff of his shirt so he looked extra menacing.
DAVIES: Did you connect right away? I mean, what - how did he react to your getting in touch?
ABRAMOVICH: Trevor's club is the East Bay Rats, that's his motorcycle club, and they have a website - a very bare-bones, old-fashioned website, but Trevor's number is on it. It was a 510 number, and I dialed it, and he was at the bar when I called him. And I said, you don't know me but I used to know you in grade school. We used to know each other in grade school. And, without missing a beat, he said, Alex Abramovich? It was very strange. And we started emailing - texting, but mostly emailing. It was really before texting - late at night, and sort of comparing memories, which turned out to be very different, his and mine. So there was a basis for communication by the time I got out to Oakland, and we got along well. We sat at his bar and - he stopped bouncing - sat down at the bar, and we drank whiskey and then we were drunk. So that's how that first meeting went.
DAVIES: And you hadn't seen each other since the fourth grade, but you clearly remembered him. You'd spoken to your friends about him. So the bullying really left an impression on you. When you reconnected as adults, what was his memory of your relationship as kids?
ABRAMOVICH: Well, I remembered him in part, I think - in retrospect, it seems to me that I remembered him because Trevor Latham is such a strong, good name for a bully. The way he remembered it - it's interesting, in the specific details of what we did - our fights, our memories - pretty much aligned. He remembers fighting, he remembers fighting in the classroom, teachers breaking us up. He remembers us getting sent down to the principal's office. He remembered our fathers having to pick us up at school - much more specific memories than I had, actually. But, weirdly enough, he also remembers that I was bullying him as much as he was bullying me, and, moreover, he remembers that despite that we were good friends at the time. He remembers us playing chess, going to each other's houses. I don't remember any of this. Didn't then, don't now.
DAVIES: And with the light of all of the experience, what's your best guess as to who's right?
ABRAMOVICH: I think in way we're both right. You know, I was an angry, messed-up kid and I'm sure that there were times when I was the aggressor, especially if this was an ongoing, you know, broken relationship between us. But what's also interesting about it is that our - the specific details of our memories line up, but that makes me think that Trevor's a bully, whereas it leads him to think that because we were fighting all the time that meant we must've been friends.
DAVIES: Wow. So he saw - he saw somebody he fought with all the time as a friend.
ABRAMOVICH: Well, not only that, but he grew up to be friends with people he fought with all the time, professionally.
DAVIES: Right, which we're going to get to. But before that, tell me a little about your family and his family when you were kids.
ABRAMOVICH: Sure. Trevor comes from a very, very old family in Long Island, the Lathams, and if you go out to the very northernmost tip of Long Island to Orient, the town called Orient, you'll see the name everywhere on farm stands, hardware stores - it's Latham, Latham, Latham. So his family had been on Long Island forever, and they became very successful. They were lawyers and architects, and there was money. And Trevor's father grew up on an estate on the North Shore in these sort of Gatsby-esque surroundings, but by the time I knew Trevor, the money was sort of gone. His family had split up. His mother and sisters had moved to California so it was just Trevor and Trevor's dad - who was unemployed at the time - sort of stuck in that house.
DAVIES: And do you know what kind of relationship he had with his dad?
ABRAMOVICH: Trevor describes his father as being a very angry individual. I think there was a lot of rage. There were holes in the sheetrock where his dad had punched through them. What Trevor told me when I met him was, my father didn't really hit me but the threat was always there, and the threat was more frightening than actually being hit because when anything is possible all the time, sort of all bets are off.
DAVIES: And what was your childhood like with your dad after your mom died?
ABRAMOVICH: You know, my family immigrated to America in 1976 so we didn't really know anyone in the country. And my parents split up about six months after we got here so my mom and I went to live in Pittsburgh and my dad went to live in New York. And he'd visit and I'd see him. We were close, but physically, we were removed by hundreds of miles. And then when my mom got too sick to take care of me, I stayed with a series of family friends. So by the time I went to live with my dad, there'd been a series of sort of dislocations for me, and I think I was already a pretty messed up and somewhat out-of-control kid and a lot for my father to handle. My father - who would've been younger than I am now, I think - all of a sudden is saddled with this damaged, you know, semi-feral child, which was what I was at that time, and I think it was overwhelming for him in some ways. I know I was a lot to handle. And then on top of that, they weren't the best economic times and we had no family in the country, we had no economic safety net. We didn't really know our neighbors so it was very isolating, and all the more isolating because we kept moving. I think by the time I started fourth grade, I had been to eight or nine schools - something like that. So it was hard at home. I think Trevor in some ways had it harder than me, but there were certainly points at which I could relate to his story when I met him.
DAVIES: Well, you go out to Oakland, you connect with Trevor, and he is the head of the East Bay Rats motorcycle club. There are lots of different kinds of motorcycle clubs, you know, some more benign than others. Give us your early impressions of the East Bay Rats.
ABRAMOVICH: Yeah, I mean, I think most people picture, you know, "Sons Of Anarchy," let's say, when they picture a motorcycle club, and there's a grain of truth to that depiction, although there's a lot that actual bikers would quibble with. The Rats sort of ride the line between presenting as a criminal organization, but they're not really criminals. They're more - they're miscreants and they're hooligans, but there are no real criminal enterprises. That said, there are a lot of them. There are about 35 at any given time. It's about the size of an Army platoon. They're big. They're not conflict-averse. And they're intimidating, they're in uniform. They're wearing motorcycle leathers, they're wearing armor, they're wearing helmets, they're wearing basically the best gear you could possibly wear in a street fight. And they know what they look like - they're very self-aware - so they're very good at gauging how intimidating they're being or presenting at any given moment.
DAVIES: Describe the clubhouse.
ABRAMOVICH: Sure. The clubhouse is an old barbershop on San Pablo Avenue, which was the oldest street in the East Bay, it used to be the Camino Real. And the clubhouse was - it was always sort of a clubhouse. It was a barbershop. It was an African-American barbershop. So it was always sort of a meeting place. In 2006, the first time I saw it, there was a speak-easy bar next door. That bar, I found out, used to be Huey Newton's speak-easy when he was on that stretch of San Pablo. So it was always this community center, that block, but that said, it had fallen on very tough times indeed. There were a lot of homeless people, there were a lot of recyclers pushing shopping carts, a lot of drugs. There was a lot of violence. So, you know, there'd be bloodstains on the sidewalk and - and the clubhouse itself was about the size of a barbershop with a backyard. And it was a concrete floor, sheetrock walls, boxing equipment wherever you looked. There was a bar that Trevor had installed stripper poles on and women would get up there during parties they threw. And, in the back, there was a barbecue pit and Trevor's old truck, and it was an old Ford Bronco that he'd painted flat black, and a boxing - well, the first time I saw it, there was no boxing ring. There were couches arranged in a square, and that's what served as a boxing ring. Later on, they got an actual boxing ring and put it in back there.
DAVIES: You said that these guys are not conflict averse, which is a nice way of saying they seem to love to mix it up. And there's a section that I'd like you to read here where you're talking about one of the club's members, a guy named John Firpo (ph), and his interaction with a stranger who had said the wrong thing. Do you want to read this for us?
ABRAMOVICH: Sure. (Reading) John Firpo had George Bellows' painting tattooed on his torso. Now I watched him punch the stranger who'd said the wrong thing. A single blow was all that it took to put the man on the concrete. This was a thing the Rats did, for the bored and unstable, for masochists or men who are eager to show off and prove themselves in some dumb way. There was no shame in getting beaten up by one of the Rats. Anyone could walk into the clubhouse, tell one of them off. They'd kick your [expletive] immediately without getting mad or taking things personally.
They were not conflict averse. They wouldn't even gang up on you necessarily. Beat downs were like a community service the Rats provided. The stranger didn't take his personally. He got back on his feet and apologized, told Firpo that his mom had just died, that he'd been messed up, at his wits end and had not meant to say anything all. Now that he had, he was sorry. I'm sorry about your mother, said Firpo as he guided the man out of the clubhouse.
DAVIES: (Laughter) That's a - this is a remarkable scene, and it's almost as if these guys use violence the way others use language, isn't it?
ABRAMOVICH: That's a beautiful way of putting it. Yeah, it's a form of communication and it's also a form of exchanging affections.
DAVIES: Alex Abramovich is our guest. His new book is "Bullies: A Friendship." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, our guest is writer Alex Abramovich. His new book, "Bullies: A Friendship," is about a friendship that he renewed with a kid he'd known from his youth who turns out to have founded a motorcycle club in Oakland. Alex Abramovich spent a lot of time there.
Now, the club, as we read your book, seems less about riding bikes than about fighting. And Trevor organized fight nights at which the public would be invited and he would have people in the boxing ring out back. Initially you say it was just a bunch of couches arranged in a square, but eventually there was a boxing ring. Do you want to describe one of these events for us?
ABRAMOVICH: You know, they sound different than they are to attend. They're fun in real life, although they're bloody and violent. And sometimes they were impromptu. Sometimes people - fights would just break out. But sometimes they were very organized and they would have themes. There was, in fact, the Jews versus Gentiles fight night, which would be a two-man versus two-man fight, so a four-man fight. And it would be over bragging rights for who could name the next holiday party. Would it be a Christmas party or would it be a Hanukkah party. And it was billed as the battle of the sects.
DAVIES: The battle of the sects, OK, S-E-C-T, OK.
ABRAMOVICH: Yeah. So fliers went out all over town. And there was a series of undercards, so a lot of other people fought before the Jews and the Gentiles got into the ring. And oddly enough, I didn't know that there were too many Jewish bikers out there. I'd never really run into them in New York, but there are a couple. In the ring, the violence was very contained. And the further away you went from the ring, the more violent things got. And sort of once you slipped into the shadows, you'd start seeing really nasty things happening. So at the time that the Jews and the Gentiles are fighting in the ring in the back, out front on San Pablo Avenue some recyclers are maybe getting beaten up for instance.
DAVIES: Recyclers - these are, like, guys who pick up cans to get, you know, food for their habits or whatever, right?
ABRAMOVICH: Yeah. I mean, there's a recycling center that's a few blocks from the clubhouse. And it's a source of constant tension in the neighborhood because not only are the recyclers with their shopping carts always clogging up San Pablo Avenue, but there are problems having to do with people's houses getting broken into, tools getting stolen, pipes getting stolen. In fact, the East Bay Rats' clubhouse was broken into while I was there and Trevor's plumbing was stolen.
And then there are also issues having to do with public urination, public defecation, prostitution, drug dealing. And remarkably enough, some of the recyclers seem to think that if they'd break their bags full of bottles - they're sold by weight. So they think that if they break their bags full of bottles they'll weigh more because broken glass weighs more than intact bottles. So there's this constant soundtrack of breaking glass.
DAVIES: You describe an incident that you witnessed between some members of the motorcycle club, the East Bay Rats, and a recycler. You want to tell us about that?
ABRAMOVICH: Yeah. So the recyclers are kind of a constant presence and when the Rats drink beer, which they do all the time and in fact there's a soda machine that sells dollar beers in the clubhouse, they'll just toss the empties outside and the empties will be gone within 30 seconds or a minute. And that's their form of recycling.
So at the night of one of the fight nights, there was a recycler who kept hovering right around the door. And usually what'll happen at a fight night or an East Bay Rats party is all of the Rats and people belonging to other clubs will ride up to the clubhouse and park their bikes in a neat line down the length of the block. So it makes for quite a visual. And on one night, I saw there was a recycler who kept darting in in between their legs right outside the clubhouse front door to get the cans, basically, to get empty beer cans.
And, you know, there are often people hanging around the Rats who want to impress them, who want to be prospects for the club. And someone like that was around that evening. And he got up at one point, got up off the motorcycle he was sitting on, walked over to the recycler and shoved him hard into the line of bikes. And, you know, I was holding my breath, and for a minute I thought it was going to be OK, but it wasn't OK. Another Rat came up and touching the bike was enough it turned out. Everyone was drunk and a Rat went up and he knocked the man down to the ground. And then a couple of other Rats came out and they knocked the man to the ground. And San Pablo is a wide avenue. It's four lanes with a big median strip. And the man crawled over - the recycler crawled over the median strip and - onto the oncoming traffic lane. And I turned and I saw one of the Rats flip the visor on his helmet down and he was on his motorcycle and he rode it around the median strip. And he rode it up to the recycler who was lying on the ground at this point bleeding. And he rolled his bike back and forth sort of nudging the recycler a few times with the front tire. And then he gunned it and he rode over the recycler's torso, which was very horrible to watch and horrible to think about and horrible also to think that I could've done something to stop it in real time. And I didn't realize that in real time and didn't do anything to stop it, so not a proud moment for me.
DAVIES: And the recycler survived, got up and walked away?
ABRAMOVICH: You know, I turned around and I thought I was going to throw up when I saw them ride over the recycler's body. And when I turned back around, the recycler was gone. I was expecting him to be lying on the cement with broken bones, but he had scampered away. The next time I saw Trevor, Trevor said, you'd be surprised. Crack heads are surprisingly resilient, and I said I wish I could've done something to stop it, and Trevor said you could've. All it takes is someone saying stop.
GROSS: We're listening to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with Alex Abramovich about his new book, "Bullies: A Friendship." We'll hear more of the interview after a break. And we'll remember The Beatles' record producer George Martin, who died yesterday at age 90. We'll listen back to an interview I recorded with him about helping shape their early sound and about producing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with Alex Abramovich about his new memoir, "Bullies: A Friendship." It's about reconnecting with a guy who'd bullied him when they were kids. When they reconnected, that guy, Trevor, was the head of a motorcycle club in East Oakland called the East Bay Rats, which was known for their bruising and brawling. The book is in part about that subculture.
DAVIES: What was the East Bay Rats' attitude towards racial diversity? I mean, there's - it's a city with a history of some racial issues certainly.
ABRAMOVICH: Yeah. I didn't know this before I started writing the book, but it turns out that many motorcycle clubs are formed along racial lines. I mean, they form along all sorts of lines. They form along - the police themselves in Oakland have a motorcycle club. In fact, there are two motorcycle clubs associated with the police out there. But well-known national clubs tend to break down along racial lines, and the Rats do not. There are African-American members. There are Jewish members, as I mentioned. There are Mexican-American members. So for the Rats, that's never really been an issue. It's very inclusive in that way. And it's also inclusive sexually I would say. Gays and lesbians are always welcome in the clubhouse. They're welcome in the - at fight nights. It's an interesting question what would happen if an openly gay man were to try to join the Rats. I'm not sure how that would fly. But in terms of people they hang out with, it's absolutely copacetic. So in that sense, the Rats are not - I would say that the Rats are more evolved in certain ways than our present political moment.
DAVIES: And what about their attitude towards women? You know, you hear of motorcycle clubs having women with - wearing things saying that they're the club's property.
ABRAMOVICH: I mean, they're not models of enlightened 21st-century, you know, men. And the gender roles are - tend to be a little old-fashioned maybe by standards employed elsewhere in the Bay Area. There are a couple of young women who hung out with the Rats. Bea (ph) and an Amber (ph) are their names, and they made themselves patches that read East Bay Cats (ph). So they were sort of like the girls auxiliary. But that's not quite the same as saying property of. On the other hand, it's certainly true - and I saw this time and again - that the Rats are both incredibly attractive for and aware of their own attractiveness to certain kinds of women in Oakland. And they take full advantage of that. And the full advantage of that might involve orgies in the back of the bar or the clubhouse. I don't think they really do this anymore. You know, they've aged out of it and they're family men now, but there was a lot of stuff going on in relation to girls.
DAVIES: Were there any stories of rape or sexual abuse of women in the club?
ABRAMOVICH: No. I never heard anything remotely about a rape and I think that I would've. I spent four years with those guys and I spent a lot of that time with people who didn't like those guys, so I would've heard about it. I heard a lot of messed up sexual stories, but nothing that wasn't consensual.
The one thing that happened while I was out there was that at one of the fight nights there was a man that assaulted a young woman. And they were making out and he started choking her and then she was on the ground and then she ran into the clubhouse covered in blood. And she said that this guy had tried to rape her and the Rats came down immediately like avenging angels, and they beat that guy to within an inch of his life. And Trevor said that as I was hitting him I was really sad because I really like this guy but here he was, you know, but then he also felt sad that he didn't break the guy's legs with a shovel.
DAVIES: Because there was a code of some kind.
ABRAMOVICH: The code is - there are rules. They're written down. I wasn't allowed to see them. Prospects aren't even allowed to see them. You're only allowed to see them once you patch in as a member. But I know what some of the rules are, and there are rules governing the treatment of women and the word respect comes up very often. So not only do you not disrespect women when they're around you but you especially respect each other's girlfriends. You have to ask permission before you date someone's ex-girlfriend. As you would imagine, this leads to a certain amount of friction.
DAVIES: You spent some time with the motorcycle club the East Bay Rats when you were writing a magazine article. Then you went back to New York and eventually came back to Oakland with your girlfriend and lived there for quite a while. So you had a lot of experience and spent a lot of time with the guys in the club. What did they think of you?
ABRAMOVICH: They didn't know what to make of me. The first time I met them when I was writing the magazine article, Trevor had told everyone that I was his bully, so they couldn't wait to see the guy who had bullied the president of their motorcycle club. And they were surprised when this, you know, 5-foot-8 guy with glasses stepped out of his rental car.
ABRAMOVICH: Trevor does not wear glasses and he's well over 6 feet tall. And they did what they would do to anyone that they liked initially - they hazed me. And they put me on a motorcycle on my first full day in Oakland, my first morning in Oakland. And they put me on a motorcycle that I was guaranteed to crash, which I did crash. And I crashed it right away and I crashed it badly. I think they expected a smaller crash, but I crashed it in style. And I broke my hand, but weirdly enough, my hand - I don't know if it was the adrenaline or just the way the nerves are arranged, but for whatever reason my hand didn't hurt until I got back to New York. So instead of going to the hospital, I wrapped it up in boxing tape and I stayed out there for a week, and I kept reporting.
So in a sense we sort of got the hazing out of the way very early and I think that I ended up presenting or appearing as a much braver person than I actually am. If my hand had actually been hurting I would've gone to the hospital. But then the magazine article came out six or seven months later and the Rats liked that very much. They're not criminals, so they don't make any money off the club, so the coin for them is publicity. And they're savvy when it comes to publicity, and this was publicity on a grand national scale, so they liked that a lot.
So the magazine article came out, and it brought them a fair amount of welcome attention, including sexual attention, and they like that. So there was a certain amount of goodwill, I would say, built in by the time I arrived back at the club. But it's a club with, you know, as I said, 35 members and some of them like the cameras and some of them don't like the cameras. And that's a dynamic in and of itself, just having a camera changes what's happening at the clubhouse. So there were Rats that didn't like me at all and probably still don't like me and they pretty much stayed away from me. John Firpo, who we mentioned already, took a very active dislike to me. And John Firpo is a very large and very intimidating, scary dude. And that was unpleasant. John and I got along fine now, but...
DAVIES: Well, I was going to - did you feel afraid ever? I mean, you were there for some long nights with a lot of drinking and I'm sure they got really rowdy. Did you feel afraid?
ABRAMOVICH: You know, I didn't feel afraid because I was in - I was working. I was there to take notes. I was drinking sometimes, but I was still working. And there was a sort of circle of safety involved when you were with Trevor. So as long as I stayed within that circle of safety, I felt OK. Now, there were things that happened at the periphery that were not OK and that were scary and frightening and genuinely I would say lightweight dangerous.
DAVIES: Alex Abramovich is our guest. His new book is "Bullies: A Friendship." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, we're speaking with writer Alex Abramovich. His new book is "Bullies: A Friendship." It's about him reconnecting with a kid he'd known from his youth who turns out to have founded a motorcycle club in Oakland. Alex Abramovich spent a lot of time there.
You know, it's interesting. There are places in the book where you have long extended stories quoted verbatim from some of the bikers, particularly Trevor. I assume you carried a tape recorder a lot of the time. And he certainly sounds very well spoken. You do say you wondered at points if he was a sociopath. What made you wonder that?
ABRAMOVICH: Things he did. To give two very brief examples - one was a story that he told me. I picked him up one day. We were going somewhere and he said, you know, it's funny. A crackhead was peeing on my door last night and I opened up the door and there he was. And I took a shovel and, you know, I broke the guy's arm. I could tell I'd broken his arm from the way it was flopping around. But then, you know, I walked inside and I turned on the PlayStation and I was playing "Star Wars Battlefront" and I got the highest score I've ever gotten. I thought that was a strange story.
DAVIES: Trevor's life did change over time, right? What's he up to now?
ABRAMOVICH: Trevor's got a very heteronormative life now. I mean, it was pretty heteronormative before, but now it's a pretty just normative let's say. He lives in Emeryville now, which is a small town next to Oakland. He moved out of Oakland because everyone is getting priced out of Oakland these days, or as Trevor put it, Oakland's getting nicer and that's great, but if it gets too much nicer, we'll all have to leave. So he left.
He got a job doing outdoor work with the city of Albany, which is another small town nearby that has really good schools that he can send his kids to. And Trevor has two little boys now. He got married. He stopped being a bouncer. At some point, he bought himself a purple Harley-Davidson. These guys all ride very fast Japanese sports bikes that they customize and turn into Rat bikes - what they call them. But Trevor bought this, you know, giant thing out of "Purple Rain" with a CD player, which he's since gotten rid of. Even that was too much for him. But he's got a - Trevor's very wily and he's sort of set himself up with the life that he wants and on the surface at least it looks pretty much like, you know, this American life.
DAVIES: And is there less violence in his life?
ABRAMOVICH: You know, I never saw Trevor - Trevor got into fights while I was there at the bar, but I never saw Trevor inside the ring. I never actually saw him box. He and I sparred together. He taught me how to box, but I never saw him that directly involved in violence. Now he's not a bouncer at the club anymore, so that takes that whole part out of the equation. They still have fight nights, and the club's actually thriving now. It was in a bit of a lull when I was out there.
So on the one hand, he's surrounded by violence, but on the other hand, you know, he's also a father now. And he told me a funny story just this week actually. They were having a fight night and his boy Mason (ph) was there. And Mason's about 2-and-a-half, maybe going on 3 now. And Mason had seen lots of boxing and ultimate fighting on TV and he'd seen people spar at the clubhouse, but he'd never seen an actual fight. And now people are fighting in the boxing ring. And these were people that he knows and loves and cares about and they're hurting each other and they're getting hurt. And Trevor looked down at Mason and he thought, oh, my God, am I one of those parents? What am I exposing my kid to? And before he could do anything, Mesa looked up at his mom and handed her his dinosaurs and ran into the clubhouse. And Trevor - you know, Trevor went after him and he was expecting to find Mason in the corner crying, but instead Trevor said Mason was in there hitting the heavy bag.
DAVIES: Wow (laughter). How well do you feel that you know him? I mean, are you good friends now? Do you feel like you understand him?
ABRAMOVICH: You know, he's my oldest friend, I think. I've known him for 30 - is that right - 35 years now and I'm only 43. And I'm his oldest friend. So in a sense there's a very deep connection and whenever we don't see each other for a while, we pick up the thread very quickly. As far as understanding him, I think my understanding of him is contained in that I can sort of walk around him and describe him. And I think I did a pretty good job of it in the book of describing how he comes across, how his very, very unusual mind works. But in terms of really, really going in there and untangling the motivations, yeah, you know, the short answer is I do think I get it and I think I described it. He functions under tremendous internal pressures and he has absorbed a great deal of poison and he's gotten better and better at with every passing year at lancing that poison and finding productive ways to - or at least non-self-destructive ways to let seep back out into the world.
DAVIES: Well, Alex Abramovich, thanks so much for speaking with us.
ABRAMOVICH: Thanks so much, Dave. It was a pleasure.
GROSS: Alex Abramovich is the author of the new memoir "Bullies: A Friendship." He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies, who is also WHYY's senior reporter. Coming up, we remember George Martin who produced 13 albums by The Beatles. He died yesterday. We'll listen back to my interview with him about working with The Beatles. This is FRESH AIR.
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